A Wisconsin judge has ordered the state Department of Natural Resources to schedule a wolf hunting season this month rather than waiting until fall.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service removed gray wolves from the endangered species list on Jan. 4, returning management authority to the lower 48 states and tribes. A 2012 state law requires the DNR to allow wolf trapping and hunting from November through February if wolves are not listed as endangered.
The DNR’s policy board voted 4-3 last month against opening the season in February amid concerns that the department had not consulted tribal nations as required by treaties and did not have time to set quotas.
The leader of a Kansas-based hunting rights organization sued the DNR, saying the law is unambiguous and that the agency violated hunters’ constitutional rights by denying them the opportunity to kill wolves right away.
Online court records show Jefferson County Circuit Judge Bennett Brantmeier ordered the DNR to “implement and follow their duty to hold the Gray Wolf hunting season in February 2021” during a hearing Thursday.
Brantmeier denied the DNR’s request for a stay pending appeal, citing a low likelihood of success.
DNR spokeswoman Sarah Hoye said the Department of Justice is reviewing the decision and the agency will be taking steps to implement the court’s order.
Luke Hilgemann, president of Hunter Nation Inc., called the ruling “a historic victory for the Wisconsin hunter.”
“Today’s ruling solidifies the rule of law and finally provides clear direction to the Evers administration to move full speed ahead with our statutorily required wolf hunt,” Hilgemann said. “Any attempts by the Evers administration to overturn this ruling are a direct assault to the constitutional rights of Wisconsin hunters.”
The wolf hunt has been a contentious issue for years. Those who favor hunting say the animals kill livestock and pets and terrorize rural residents, while wildlife supporters say the creatures are too beautiful to kill, and Native American tribes consider them sacred.
Dozens of people testified on both sides at the Natural Resources Board’s meeting, and the board received more than 1,400 written comments on the proposed hunt.
Wisconsin last held a wolf hunt in 2014, but the law allows people to shoot wolves if there is an immediate threat to human safety or if wolves are attacking domestic animals on private land.
The DNR estimates Wisconsin is home to at least 1,034 wolves in 256 packs, primarily across the northern third of the state and the Central Forest region, up from 815 in 2012.
The agency reported 152 animals — including livestock and hunting dogs — were killed or injured last year by wolves and has paid out $1.8 million over the past decade in wolf depredation payments.